We must ensure leaving the EU doesn’t put our National Parks at risk

Nearly 18 months on from the EU referendum there is still huge uncertainty about what Brexit will mean for so many areas of our lives. One thing we do know is that the loss of European protections could put so much of what we value in our beautiful National Parks at risk.

EU environmental legislation has played a crucial role in protecting the sensitive landscapes and vulnerable wildlife in these beautiful areas. But these vital protections could be significantly reduced if we lose the essential EU legal principles which they are based on. There is a very real risk of that happening unless changes are made to the EU Withdrawal Bill currently making its way through parliament.

Maintaining strong protections for nature after the UK leaves the EU was one of the main recommendations in the report on major development that we published last year last with CPRE and the National Trust. This was based on research that the three organisations commissioned from Sheffield Hallam University to investigate ways of strengthening the planning protection for National Parks. Several of the National Park planning officers interviewed as part of this research highlighted the important role that European regulations play in protecting National Parks from development that would damage the ecology of these sensitive landscapes.

These regulations are particularly valuable when National Park Authority (NPA) decisions to refuse damaging developments need to be defended at a planning appeal. NPA planning officers felt that these regulations often carried greater weight with Planning Inspectors than the National Park designation, particularly where there was pressure for new housing or major industrial and transport infrastructure.

Dark skies in the Brecon Beacons National Park. Photo credit: Michael Sinclair

Stunning dark skies in the Brecon Beacons National Parks. Will these exquisite sites be safe as we leave the EU? Photo credit: Michael Sinclair.

If the wildlife and natural beauty of our National Parks are to be safeguarded in the future, it is essential that we have the same or stronger protection for nature after the UK leaves the European Union. That’s why we’re now working alongside dozens of other environment and wildlife organisations, through Wildlife and Countryside Link, to call for changes to the Withdrawal Bill. We all want to ensure that our natural environment will continue to benefit from the same level of protection after we leave the EU.

The Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, recently, set out a number of commitments relating to the environmental protections that will exist post-Brexit. He is proposing a strong new environmental regulator in England and a policy statement setting out the principles that will underpin our environmental policy. These measures could address some of our concerns but there is very little detail about them at this stage. This means there are still lots of unknowns about exactly what will be proposed and how effective it will be. 

Without full legislative backing for the environmental principles, there will be a significant weakening of the protections which are so vitally important for our National Parks. This is what we and other environmental charities will be continuing to campaign for. You can support our work by telling your MP how important EU environmental legislation is for protecting the nature in our National Parks.

By Ruth Bradshaw, Policy and Research Manager at Campaign for National Parks